Cinderella Tale: Student Designs Genius Power Plug, And Now It's For Sale

The Mu started out as a pie-in-the-sky student concept to streamline the U.K.'s bulky power plug. Three years later, it’s actually hitting the shelves.

If you’ve spent any time in Great Britain, surely you’ve noticed their power plug. It’s comically big. At 4.5 centimeters thick, it’s the largest three-pronged plug in the world and bulkier than many of the portable devices it powers. What’s the point of a barely-there MacBook Air when you have to juice it with a hand grenade?

Now, for the first time since the 1940s, a redesigned power plug has made its way to the U.K. marketplace. The Mu—which started out as a student project by Korean-born, British-trained industrial designer Min-Kyu Choi—folds up into a neat little package, reducing the plug’s overall size by about 70%. In its closed position, the device measures slightly more than 1 centimeter thick. The cost: 25 pounds.

"The U.K. plug was designed just after the Second World War, at a time when there were no portable electric products," Choi says. "It didn’t matter back then that plugs were bulky and clumsy. I made a list of what could be changed and what couldn’t. The second list was surprisingly short."

The central innovation is a patented folding mechanism that allows the pins to swivel and rotate into the body of the plug.

In a way, the story of how The Mu wound up on the shelves is even more impressive than the design itself. Choi alit on the idea of a streamlined plug in 2009, after a standard clunky plug scratched his shiny new laptop. At the time, he was studying at the Royal College of Art London, and his concept was just a rough one—not the sort of thing you expect to inch past the drawing board. But then it went viral, swooping up design awards left and right and collecting accolades from the likes of James Dyson and the artist Antony Gormley. To develop the product for market, Choi partnered with Matthew Judkins, a business creative with expertise in "bringing game-changing design innovations to life." Three years on, Choi’s lofty student idea is finally a commercial reality, which, for a young industrial designer, is pretty much like striking gold.

Choi’s original video explaining how the plug works.

One drawback: The Mu is only available as a USB power adapter for smartphones, so if you want a sleek plug for your laptop or TV, tough luck. Later, Choi’s company Made in Mind plans to roll out products for other devices, like a tablet-optimized USB adapter and a "Mu Power Cord set," which should widen the innovation’s reach. Still, it’s hard to imagine that people who aren’t big-time design freaks will shell out 25 pounds for each portable gadget they own just to keep their electrical outlets tidy. The big coup would be if electronics manufacturers started incorporating the plug into new devices, elevating The Mu from a niche product to a market standard. That’d really be a Cinderella story.

[Images courtesy of Made in Mind; hat tip to the Telegraph]

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